“The Age of Iron” was published by the printing firm of Currier and Ives of New York in 1869. It satirized the woman suffrage movement that was gaining widespread support in America during that time.
The woman suffrage movement began in 1848 at the first woman's rights convention, which was held in Seneca Falls, New York, with the participants calling for political equality and the right to vote. As the movement gained more support throughout the country, it also brought about a great deal of public scrutiny. Many people, including some women, questioned how women would be able to continue completing their domestic duties in the private sphere while participating in the public sphere. Since women had always been seen as inferior to men, many people were also concerned about the implications of women gaining the right to vote and becoming one step closer to equality.
Political cartoons were often used as a medium for expressing these opinions and concerns. The message of “The Age of Iron: Man as He Expects to Be” is the fear of the consequences of women gaining suffrage—their behavior would change and they would leave their domestic duties behind. As women became more involved with the public sphere and redefined their roles in the home, tension grew among those who feared what society would be like with women participating in politics. “The Age of Iron” depicts two men, one sewing and the other doing laundry while a woman approaches a carriage driven by another woman, with a third woman on the back. Not only does this speak to the fear among men that they would be left to take care of domestic duties while women left the home, it also shows the concern that male servants would be replaced by women. Men were extremely concerned about women's challenging the idea of private and public spheres, and feared that the status of men would change dramatically if women were to gain political equality.
Many American women shared these same concerns and opposed the woman suffrage movement. When Anna Whitehead Bodeker, of Richmond, formed the Virginia State Woman Suffrage Association in 1870, it faced similar criticisms and disbanded a few years later without achieving its goals.
Nevertheless, the movement brought about great changes for women, but not without its share of challenges. Political cartoons like “The Age of Iron” are examples of the opposition that suffragists faced. Cartoons like this are important to understanding the suffrage movement—depicting what many antisuffragists believed would happen if women were given the right to vote and shedding light on why the suffrage struggle was so difficult, as well as what members of the suffrage movement had to face in order to achieve their goals.
1. During what social movement was this cartoon created?
2. What was the purpose of the cartoon?
3. How are women depicted in “The Age of Iron”?
4. How are men depicted in “The Age of Iron” and what does this tell us about their opposition to the suffrage movement?
1. Political cartoons have been used in various movements throughout history. They can be used to gain support for a movement, or can be used by a movement's opposition to take support away. Look up political cartoons from other movements such as the temperance movement and the abolition movement. How can they be compared to these from the suffrage movement? What are their goals? What methods do they use to gain support for their cause, or to take it away from their opposition?
2. Compare this cartoon to "A Society of Patriotic Ladies, at Edenton, North Carolina, October 25, 1774." These prints were created one hundred years apart. How are their depictions of women similar? How are they different? What do they say about the position of women in society in North America?
Evans, Sara M. Born for Liberty: A History of Women in America. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1997.
Treadway, Sandra Gioia. "A Most Brilliant Woman: Anna Whitehead Bodeker and the First Woman Suffrage Association in Virginia." Virginia Cavalcade 43 (1994): 166–177.